Managers as Motivators

Managers who understand what motivates each employee can tailor incentives accordingly. But your motivational toolbox should go beyond rewarding excellent work. Just as important to keeping workers engaged is a plan for encouraging, consoling, and embracing them when they invariably slip off track.

But how do you find the right balance between supporting employees and pushing them to meet high standards? Motivational pros offer some insights.

Provide Feedback, Both Positive and Corrective

Regular feedback — both positive and corrective — from managers helps keep employees on a path of continuous improvement, says Sharon Jordan-Evans of Jordan Evans Group and author of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay.

"Most people want feedback and will use it to improve," Jordan-Evans says. "Give them room to stretch, grow, make mistakes and excel. But be sure to reward the behaviors you want repeated. When talented people seem motivated to you, notice it and thank them. They'll repeat those actions and attitudes."

Create a Positive Atmosphere

A positive corporate culture also motivates employees to do their best, says Tracey Turner, executive director of The Creative Group. Professionals will work harder for managers who show they care about employees as individuals and want to help them succeed.

Coach Through the Ups and Downs

Carol E. Gilson, an adjunct professor in human resources and management at St. Paul College, offers these tips for coaching an employee through a rough period:

  • When an Employee Makes a Mistake: Help him determine why it happened and understand the consequences. Then show confidence that the employee can do a better job.
  • When an Employee Becomes Complacent: Meet with him to discuss his slip in performance. Is it due to a specific problem? Offer ideas to help the employee improve, and clearly define expectations.
  • When an Employee Has a New Project — and More Work: Show your enthusiasm for the project, and ask everyone involved to commit to it. Offer an incentive when it's completed.

Turner stresses the importance of positive reinforcement as a motivational tool:

  • Celebrate Accomplishments: A simple thank-you note or public praise will increase an employee's confidence, while a staff lunch at the conclusion of a major project can help build team spirit. "The impact of showing appreciation for a job well done is tremendous — a recent survey commissioned by our company revealed that lack of recognition is one of the primary reasons employees quit their jobs," he says.
  • Criticize Carefully: When you must criticize, do it privately, and keep the discussion performance-based, not personal. Be consistent, and hold all employees to the same standards.
  • Set Clear Expectations: Conduct regular performance appraisals so employees understand what's expected of them. Instill confidence and enthusiasm by noting an employee's strengths and special skills, not just perceived weaknesses.
  • Staff Strategically to Prevent Burnout: Bringing in extra help during peak workloads enables full-time employees to concentrate on special projects while temporary workers focus on day-to-day matters or vice-versa.